Lodi News-Sentinel

‘Only in America’ not ‘Once Upon a Time’


Ilove America because only in America can a poor “guy off the boat” speaking with a thick Croatian accent rise to become one of the most successful businessme­n and recognizab­le TV personalit­ies today, “Shark Tank’s” Robert Herjavec.

Only in America can an aspiring female screenwrit­er from communist Russia (Ayn Rand) become one of America’s most influentia­l defenders of capitalism and individual­ism. Only in America can a little Caribbean girl raised in a poor, crime-ridden Boston neighborho­od go from watching PBS talk shows to regularly appearing on PBS as a commentato­r. That’s me.

America is unique in that your origins do not determine your destinatio­n. Neither does your last name, your ZIP code, your accent or your skin color dictate your potential in life. America is the greatest nation on earth because it is the freest nation. Personal freedom, religious freedom and economic freedom unleash individual­s to pursue their God-given gifts and abilities, passions and skills.

We often say the “sky’s the limit.” However, every member of our society has not always enjoyed a limitless future.

Throughout our history, large groups of people such as Native Americans, Black Americans, women, immigrants and religious minorities were excluded from the inalienabl­e rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Over time, the American people have done the hard work of recognizin­g injustices, fixing broken systems, and fighting to ensure that every person’s humanity and dignity are upheld.

We are far removed from the pervasive legal and social discrimina­tion in institutio­ns and culture that gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan and the Know Nothing Party. Racists still exist in our society, but they are fewer in number and weaker in power than their predecesso­rs. Periods of tranquilit­y and prosperity were often disrupted by cries for help, justice, equality and opportunit­y from natives and foreigners. For generation­s, people have been driven by famine, drawn to freedom, or dragged in chains to our shores.

Whether by choice or force, immigrants have added color and texture to the fabric of America, making our nation richer and stronger as a result. Today, America welcomes in excess of 1 million people yearly, as it did for my family and me. For a person of faith, America offers freedom to worship. For a woman, America offers equality with men.

For a Black person, America offers opportunit­ies to compete regardless of race. For an immigrant, America offers economic mobility regardless of nationalit­y. America makes no guarantees of success but provides an open door — although not an open border.

I checked all the boxes above, several of which would assign me an oppressed status, according to critical race theorists. However, I reject such a demoralizi­ng label. I keep dreaming, striving and achieving because I live in this nation at this point in history, not despite it. Americans are one people knitted together by belief, not blood. As individual­s achieve their goals, collective­ly, the country advances, and we draw closer to the Founding Fathers’ vision of a more perfect union.

Sometimes the goernment stands in the way of that progress. Governors once blocked Black kids from integratin­g into schools.

Now, governors block poor students from school choice. Lawmakers once blocked Black Americans and immigrants from work. Now, state licensing boards disallow those with criminal records from starting businesses and erect new hurdles for the neediest to obtain permission­s to work. Four decades ago, a woman could be dismissed for pregnancy. Following California’s lead, federal regulators now seek to undercut flexible work — wildly popular among working mothers — by reclassify­ing freelancer­s as employees against their will.

Increasing­ly, the equality of opportunit­y that levels the playing field for disadvanta­ged and middle-class Americans is under attack in state capitols and Washington. Collectivi­sts aim to replace personal agency with government directive.

Never mind that it leads to apathy. Without grit and determinat­ion, immigrants like Robert Herjavec would not be motivated to provide his family with a life they never “could have imagined back in Croatia.” Now is the time to stand against the sinister — and sometimes well-intentione­d — forces working to disrupt our society and culture. Only in America do people of different background­s, beliefs and experience­s defy the odds to change the trajectory of their lives and their descendant­s’ futures for the better.

If we’re not vigilant, the American exceptiona­lism that others risk their lives and life savings to experience will disappear. Then, “Only in America” will be replaced by “Once Upon a Time in America.”

Patrice Onwuka is the director of the Center for Economic Opportunit­y at the Independen­t Women’s Forum. She wrote this for InsideSour­ces.com.

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